Assessing apprentices in lockdown conditions presents unique challenges but collaboration and flexibility will ensure disruption is kept to a minimum, writes Rob Nitsch

End point assessment is no exception to the disruption being felt across the whole apprenticeship sector.

It is inevitable that an activity involving close interaction between apprentices and assessors, and in some cases observation of apprentices at work, is heavily affected by travel restrictions and physical distancing.

There are difficult trade-offs to be made and balances to be struck

The institute is committed to supporting the apprenticeship sector and end-point assessment organisations through this challenge. First and foremost our priority is the health and wellbeing of apprentices and all those involved. A close second is helping as many apprentices to complete their apprenticeship where this is safe, practical and there is the demand from employers and apprentices to do so.

In this, I recognise that it is critical that we balance the desire to keep assessment going with the maintenance of the quality and integrity of the whole apprenticeship system.

So where quality can be sustained, we are committed to supporting end-point assessment organisations to deliver.

Our guidance provides considerable flexibility that enables end-point assessment organisations, working in partnership with external quality assessment (EQA) providers, to deliver end-point assessment more innovatively – for example, using technology to conduct observations or professional discussions remotely; and increasingly using remote proctoring technology to invigilate tests remotely.

Over the last two weeks EQA providers have agreed flexibilities which apply to over 60 standards from actuarial technician to senior equine groom to adult care worker. It is also possible to reorder assessment methods so that written tests or professional discussions can be taken now and the observation delivered later. This is, for example, the approach that has been agreed for the motor vehicle service and maintenance technician standard.

These flexibilities have the potential to allow thousands of apprentices to undertake end-point assessment, despite the current operating constraints.

I would like to thank all those in EQA providers and end-point assessment organisations who have worked quickly and pragmatically to come to agreements about how assessments can be delivered and agree appropriate safeguards which can be put in place.

There are also likely to be a small number of other instances where it may be possible to implement an alternative assessment method without endangering the integrity of the EPA itself. We are taking the views of end point assessment organisations and have established a number of route taskforces to look at specific standards where it might be possible to go further to permit assessment without compromising quality or the outcome.

These task forces will bring together trailblazers, end-point assessment organisations, EQA providers and institute staff to work through the issues and suggest a way forward, if appropriate. These will then be scrutinised and signed off by route panel members prior to implementation.  Of course, if these employers don’t feel that a professional discussion or portfolio can demonstrate competence sufficiently, and that assessment must include seeing the apprentice doing the job, then an alternative method can’t be adopted at this time.

We are, like everyone in the UK, working in ways and taking decisions that we would not have imagined taking even a couple of months ago. In all this there are difficult trade-offs to be made and balances to be struck. I hope that we are broadly getting these right and taking decisions that will allow apprentices to continue to take high-quality assessment and complete their apprenticeships at this time.